Riding the Zamboni – Thursday, February 17th

Boston 6, NY Islanders 3

Amidst rampant trade rumors (which turned out to be blown out of proportion), the Bruins went out and showed everyone that they are perfectly capable of dominating a game with the roster they have. Boston scored three goals in the first 9:04 and never looked back en route to snapping their 3-game losing streak. Conversely, the loss snaps the Islanders season long 4 game winning streak. If you ignore the 1st period, they didn’t really play that bad.

NY Rangers 4, Los Angeles 3 (SO)

Headline writers had a field day as King Henrik beat the Kings for his 200th career win. Twice in the 3rd period, the Rangers scored the go-ahead goal only to see the Kings respond within 2 minutes with a goal of their own. The win is the Rangers second in a row, while the OT point gives the Kings points in 11 straight.

Detroit 6, Tampa Bay 2

In a game that was billed as “Stevie Y against his Old Team,” the old team showed that they’re doing just fine without him. The #2 seed in the Western Conference took the #2 seed from the Eastern Conference behind the woodshed and reminded them they’ve been there before. After the game, Lightning coach Guy Boucher said, “This is the standard in the league. This is the best all-around team. We’ve got a ways to go to get to that level. We have two months to get there.”

I doubt he’ll get any arguments from his players.

Nashville 3, Vancouver 1

In a bit of role reversal, the Canucks saw opponents dropping like flies as Mike Fisher and Steve Sullivan were both hit in the face with a puck. Mix in Marcel Goc also leaving the game with an injury, and it was a rough night for the Predators.

But not all was bad in Nashville. Mike Fisher got his 1st goal as a Predator (and playing a good all-around game) and they were able to control the game against the NHL’s #1 team for the majority of the contest. On the plus side for Vancouver, no Canuck defensemen were injured while writing this post.

Edmonton 4, Montreal 1

What are the chances that the Montreal Canadiens were looking past this game towards this weekend’s Heritage Classic? Ales Hemsky scored the first goal of the game and added an empty-netter; which must have pleased Edmonton’s management if they’re looking to trade him before the deadline. But the best news of the night had nothing to do with hockey at all: James Wisniewski (after taking a puck off the face), “only” suffered a broken cheekbone and did not suffer a serious eye injury.

Phoenix 4, Atlanta 3

Another game, another win for the Phoenix Coyotes. The Coyotes were able to comeback from a 3-2 deficit to earn the victory and jump to 1st place in the ever changing Pacific Division. Unfortunately for fans in Atlanta, the loss by the Thrashers was just more of the same. The loss drops the Thrashers to 3-9-4 in their last 16 games and finds them in the 10th spot in the East.

San Jose 3, Washington 2

Back-to-back games on an East Coast swing proved to be a little too much for the struggling Caps as they dropped their fourth game in their last five. Then again, they’ve now lost 11 straight at the Shark Tank–so it shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise.

While the Caps have been struggling against Pacific Division opponents as of late, the Sharks have been riding a hot streak 11-2-1 in their last 14.

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    Heinen over Wingels right choice for Bruins in Game 7

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    The Boston Bruins will make one change to their lineup heading into Game 7 against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night.

    Danton Heinen, who was a healthy scratch in Game 6, will be back in the lineup, while Tommy Wingels, who’s played in three of the six games during the series, will watch from the press box again on Wednesday. On paper, this doesn’t seem to be a significant change, but head coach Bruce Cassidy isn’t just making changes for the sake of making changes.

    Neither player has made an offensive impact in the series. Wingels has no points and a plus-1 rating in three games, while Heinen has no points and a minus-1 rating in five contests. Even though neither player has popped up on the scoresheet, there’s a significant gap when it comes to their advanced stats. Heinen has a CF% of 49.49, which doesn’t jump off the page, but when you compare it to Wingels’ CF% (39.34), you realize that there’s a significant difference. To further point the arrow in Heinen’s direction, the 22-year-old has zone starts in the offensive zone just 37.5 percent of the time compared to 47.62 percent for Wingels.

    [NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

     

    So, in terms of offense, neither player has really contributed, but it appears to be pretty clear that the odds are on Heinen’s side when it comes to the way they’ve played this postseason.

    If we take a look at the standard numbers during the regular season, it’s obvious that Heinen was the more productive player. The rookie had 16 goals and 47 points in 77 games, which is far from terrible for his first year in the NHL. Wingels, 30, had nine goals and 18 points in 75 games with the ‘Hawks and Bruins.

    Getting an extra night off during the series could help Heinen find his game. And based on his comments after Tuesday’s practice, it sounds like the coaching staff made their instructions clear. Heinen mentioned that he needs to be more assertive, stronger on the puck and he needs to win puck battles so that he can have the puck on his stick a little more often.

    Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

    Amid bevy of head shots, NHL attempts to explain rationale

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    Drew Doughty watched other playoff games this season and couldn’t believe that George Parros, the NHL’s discipline czar, had suspended him for a head shot.

    ”I saw four hits last night that deserved more than that,” the Los Angeles Kings defenseman said.

    Doughty’s one-game suspension was the first of several in the first round for a hit to the head of an opponent. Toronto’s Nazem Kadri got three games and Winnipeg’s Josh Morrissey and Nashville’s Ryan Hartman got one game each. Washington’s Tom Wilson and Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov were among those who got off without significant punishment.

    The criticism, from Columbus to Colorado and from New Jersey to Los Angeles, was loud enough that the NHL’s department of player safety put out a video last week explaining its reasoning for suspending Doughty and Hartman but not Kucherov or Predators center Ryan Johansen.

    ”The illegal check to the head rule is often misunderstood or misstated,” the league said in the video. ”Illegal checks to the head and legal full body hits often look similar at first glance because the difference between legal and illegal can be a matter of inches in a sport that moves fast.”

    Discontent over the goalie interference rule has been grabbing headlines for weeks, but the head shot discussion carries far more serious implications for a league still grappling with how best to protect its players. What’s acceptable has evolved from the early days of hockey through Scott Stevens’ then-legal crushing blow on Eric Lindros in 2000 to today, where checks to the head are parsed frame-by-frame to determine if a line was crossed. The NHL, too, is still facing a federal class-action concussion lawsuit filed by former players alleging it failed to warn them about the health risks associated with head injuries.

    Meeting with Associated Press Sports Editors last week, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman insisted there was nothing new about the subject. Asked about player safety, Bettman said Parros is off to good start in the former enforcer’s first season as vice president of player safety. He said he is proud of player safety’s transparency in the form of videos detailing the reasons for suspending a player.

    [NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

    ”Sometimes we get accused of splitting hairs, but that’s exactly what they have to do,” Bettman said. ”I think he’s reached the appropriate conclusion when it’s been a hockey play that doesn’t transcend the rules and I think he’s been appropriately punitive in cases where it warranted it. There’s never going to be a shortage of critics of what they do.”

    Doughty, a finalist for the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman, said he hit Vegas forward William Carrier‘s shoulder first before his head in Game 1. Kings coach John Stevens added: ”As long as I’m on the earth, I’m going to agree to disagree with that decision.”

    The league video emphasized that an illegal check to the head concerns a player’s head being the main point of contact, not the first point of contact. Based on experience, the league said, a player’s head snapping back on these kinds of hits indicates significant head contact.

    Los Angeles general manager Rob Blake, who worked under Brendan Shanahan in the department of player safety from 2010-2013, said it’s a tough job while at the same time reiterating the organization was unhappy with the suspension of Doughty. Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen was upset forward Josh Anderson was ejected from Game 1 against Washington for boarding Michal Kempny and called a hit to the head of Alexander Wennberg from Washington’s Tom Wilson that got only a minor penalty ”dangerous.”

    Wilson was not given a hearing or suspended. Wennberg missed Games 2, 3 and 4 and the hit was not included in the NHL’s explanation video.

    Columbus coach John Tortorella didn’t want to weigh in on the lack of punishment for Wilson, a common refrain across the NHL because nothing can be done after the fact. For a more specific reason, Bettman doesn’t weigh in on suspensions because any appeals go to him. He does look at suspension videos before they are issued.

    ”I watch as a fan to make sure they make sense,” Bettman said. ”I want to make sure the videos we send out are clear.”

    ”I think player safety as a whole has done an extraordinarily good job of changing the culture,” Bettman said.” We have players not making certain types of hits anymore. We have players who are more accountable for their conduct and understand it and I believe that they’ve been consistent.”

    AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker in Nashville, Tennessee, and Sports Deputy Editor for Newsgathering Howie Rumberg in New York contributed.

    PHT Morning Skate: Is Tavares to Avs realistic?

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    Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

    • Bruce Cassidy has a few important lineup decisions to make heading into Game 7 against the Leafs tonight. Does Danton Heinen come back into the lineup? Should Ryan Donato suit up? (Boston.com)

    • It’s no secret that the Canadiens are lacking quality bodies on defense. Winning this weekend’s draft lottery and drafting Rasmus Dahlin would fix a lot of problems. (Sportsnet)

    • It was a tough year for Braden Holtby, but he managed to come through at the most crucial time of the season. (Washington Post)

    • Bill Peters opting out of his contract with the Carolina Hurricanes was a good thing for his former team because they badly needed a change behind the bench. (Cardiac Cane)

    Leo Komarov is healthy, but it seems unlikely that Mike Babcock will play him in Game 7 against the Bruins tonight. (Pension Plan Puppets)

    • Two Denver Post writers debate whether or not it’s realistic to think that John Tavares could end up in Colorado. (Denver Post)

    Shea Theodore has played some good hockey for the Golden Knights this postseason, which isn’t surprising when you look at his body of work in last year’s playoffs. (Sinbin.Vegas)

    • Former NHL goalie Arturs Irbe is going to be honored by the Latvian Ice Hockey Federation. They’ll be retiring his number ahead of a game against Switzerland. (The Province)

    • College basketball has a problem with their “one-and-done” rule. To fix it, they should take a page out of the NHL’s book when it comes to college prospects. (Raleigh News & Observer)

    Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

    Stanley Cup Playoffs: NHL announces second round openers

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    We have one game left in the opening round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins will do battle at TD Garden Wednesday night (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) in Game 7 with the winner advancing to face the Tampa Bay Lightning.

    As we wait for the full second-round schedule, the NHL has released the start dates and times for opening games of each series, including the situations depending on whether the Bruins or Maple Leafs win.

    [NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

    Thursday, April 26

    • The Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals will kick off at 7 p.m. ET (NBCSN) from Capital One Center in Washington, D.C.

    • Out West, the San Jose Sharks will visit T-Mobile Arena and the Vegas Golden Knights for their opener at 10 p.m. ET (NBCSN).

    Friday, April 27

    • The top two teams in the NHL will meet in the first game of their best-of-7 at 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN) as the Nashville Predators play host to Patrik Laine and the Winnipeg Jets.

    Saturday, April 28

    If Boston advances, the Bruins and Lightning will play Game 1 at 3 p.m. ET (NBC) at AMALIE Arena in Tampa.

    If Toronto advances, the Maple Leafs will get their Hockey Night in Canada timeslot and visit the Lightning at 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN)

    ————

    Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.